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J.R.R. Tolkien's 1938 Response To Nazis Demanding To Know If He Was Jewish Is A History Lesson In Sick Burns

Photo by Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Getty Images/The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Good

Don't mess with J. R. R. Tolkien unless you want an earful.


In 1938, English author J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of the The Lord of the Rings series, was in talks with a Berlin publishing house about translating his recent success The Hobbit into German. Things seemed to be going well until the publisher sent Tolkien a request to prove his Aryan ancestry.

Tolkien, who hated the Nazi doctrine, wrote a letter of response letting the publisher know exactly how he felt. He also gave his British publisher, Stanley Unwin, another response that simply side-stepped the topic.

Tolkien let the publisher decide which to send.

Unwin did not disappoint, and this is the letter he sent.

"25 July 1938"
"20 Northmoor Road, Oxford"
"Dear Sirs,"
"Thank you for your letter. I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject — which should be sufficient."
"I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride."
"Your enquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (as it has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its sustainability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung."
"I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and remain yours faithfully,"
"J. R. R. Tolkien"

Twitter was loving some Tolkien shade.




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